trees-Ivo Kerssemakers

Memory is Not a Courtroom

by Dunya Dianne McPherson

Wind arrives on my altar in great billows and whumps. Windows rattle and trees hiss in the invisible dark before dawn. I rise and dress in clothes I laid out the night before, make my way downstairs, and light four candles on the mantlepiece. I take back my past…I take back my past, or anyone’s for that matter, from the memory care industry. Memory is not reliable like Google or fixed like the Mona Lisa. Memory is not a courtroom. It is changeable as a tidal flat at low ebb, creatures and jetsam dotting the sand in temporary locations. Recalling an event over and over with exactitude is like reading a book too many times. I don’t mean that memory is fickle, only that we remain fleet and fluid. The loon dives then surfaces twenty yards away, piercing the bay’s smooth flank in the dull gold glimmer and not in the gunmetal field. The question really is what is memory, and what is the Past, and what is time?

We Were There
When I chat with my brother about our childhood, I’m surprised at how far we have each drifted from that originally shared mooring. I’m never sure, when he drifts off, if he has shutdown or is silently taking details into his inner crypt like a raven carefully collecting. I am tempted to fight for my version, correct his, but then my creative inner world nudges me to let it alone. As life goes on, siblings, if you have them, test truth. We begin to choose the kind of truth that makes us each whole and just by that choosing, reality is less certain, more intimate and personal. Yours, mine. Family relationships and friendships depend on the harmony between versions. Do they braid into a cord?

Flesh Memory
Before I dove into my body as a sunken bark of my truth, things were mostly one way—the way my head remembered them. Now things are another way. I dive and dredge. Flesh memories are less defined than well-rehearsed cognitive memories. I put them on the now crowded shelf. They deserve a place, don’t they? Soon the orderly array is a mess. Some days, I move and all memories dissolve. A clean slate. A welcome amnesia.

As we continue on Earth, we see that the remembered so-called truth about how it is and who we are is almost a farce. Not that things didn’t actually happen, but that what they mean is not what we thought. Interpretation. Skewing. Spinning. They say, we say, she said, he said. Authenticity—what is that? No, we are in ‘the play’, as Shakespeare would say.

So, I m taking back my past. Memory is my creative archive. I rip apart the old works and reconfigure. I have the right to do this with my own memories, which, after all are mine. My life. Memory, my haunted castle of shadows, regrets, rages, is a mess. Memory is not a game to test my cognitive fitness. I truly do not care about 70% of my already lived life. I wish I remembered poems better and the lyrics to the hundreds of songs I learned in childhood. This is not news, but what is news to me is how little memory has to do with self.

I subscribe to the notion that we have a true Self connected to One-ness, Truth, yet perhaps the excavation of identity, an inevitable part of the inward journey, is a sort of entertainment—the treasure hunt for a solid gold statue of self. Where have I been, with who and when and why, and what happened there, and what are the old fairy tales, and the lies? In all that, we’ve had some truths, haven’t we? Yet a trillion stories built on a thin handful of actualities blind us to the Moment.

Memory has to do with identity, but self is a creature of the Moment.

I move on my mat, drop into the Moment, and the Past disappears. The river of  Time disappears. I am in All Time that lives in the Moment. At some later point, I return to the river of Time to feel my Past transformed.

All Time

Halloween night, I sat on the floor with my friend in her tall tower house by the sea on a soft rug, her little chihuahua asleep in my lap. Outside, the stormy night bellowed. Inside, a portal opened. She read some haiku of Basho. Basho said of haiku that the second a haiku reaches completion, it disappears, because a haiku is a threshold. Once you cross it, the haiku has done its work. You have crossed from one world to another. But here’s the thing: the door between the worlds closes and you cannot go back. She and I spoke about unwinding the Past, erasing karma, and how mystics live this one life, moving in and out of the Moment, of All Time, unwinding karmas now. Or better, witnessing the karmas unwind. We Sufis whirl counterclockwise unwinding Time, entering the Moment, transforming the worlds.

Back in the river of Time, how can we possibly untangle the horrors? We are not that perceptive nor capable. Of course, as much as is humanly possible, we should do good. Why do bad? Of course we make efforts. We discern, going this way and not that, letting in this and not that. We must never renege on being a decent, kind human. Of course we all agree that the Holocaust took place. It’s just that we are so wound up. I, for one, need unwinding.

The action that happens in my increasingly porous time, the one that matters, is crossing Basho’s threshold. Moving in the Moment begins a meta-motion beyond my puny hands. I hang in the hammock of All Time where every motion alters every other motion.


The wind arrives on my altar, hurls small things aside. It is a heavy wind. The old tall trees shudder down to their roots. Cleaved to the ground, I look through tremulous windows. It is autumn. Not the tidy, crisp autumn of my youth when dry leaves swirled. Was it really different? Yes, it was. The sky and sea were different. I remember this…Now, evil men rule. I am small and secret. I live in the time of tempests, the time of wet leaves yanked and matted. Evil men rule but being small and secret, I live secretly with other unfindable people.

trees-Ivo Kerssemakers

I am delighted that you are with me and appreciate your sharing these writings friends. Thank you!

My work and writing are sponsored by Dervish Society of America, a nonprofit organization helping people realize their human and spiritual potential by honoring their body and its movement ways using evolutionary Sufi Dancemeditation practices. Thank you for your gift. It’s tax-deductible!

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8 months ago

Ah Dunya, lovely writing on this mutable topic! I’ve been watching the arc of my own reached-for memories shift and change. Can’t wait to see you, Love.

Theresa Cancelliere
Theresa Cancelliere
8 months ago

My brother visited today and I am always struck how each Childs perception in the same family is different.We are not one another perception only are own.Memories and each are different.Always a beautiful read and I love the picture.

Janice Harmon
Janice Harmon
8 months ago

Oh my, Dunya…I journal, keep gratitude lists, and I get high when my writings feel honest & spiritual, but your compositions reach another level. It’s as if you are…Dancing with Words! 💖

7 months ago

Grateful for your words that resonate with my heart space…so looking towards immersion…. twirling, swirling, whirling… disentangling the tangle… and love.

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